In the war room, history came suddenly.
With the clock running out on the seventh and final round of the 2014 NFL Draft on Saturday evening and the St. Louis Rams holding two of the last eight picks, Rams coach Jeff Fisher turned to general manager Les Snead and team president Kevin Demoff and said, “Let’s go get Michael Sam” — and the NFL changed forever.
When Fisher announced his intention to draft Sam, the former Missouri star hoping to become the NFL’s first openly gay player, there was a perceptible buzz in the Rams’ war room, largely because no one else saw it coming.
Sam, the 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, was not rated highly on the team’s draft board. An outside edge rusher viewed as a “tweener,” meaning he doesn’t necessarily fit as a traditional NFL defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, Sam didn’t seem to be a logical fit for a team that has a pair of highly regarded defensive ends in All-Pro Robert Quinn and Chris Long.
Late Friday night in Fisher’s office, as the coach met with Demoff and Snead, the subject of drafting Sam came up, and it was quickly dismissed. Yet privately, Fisher was contemplating the possibility that, if Sam remained on the board in the draft’s latter stages, he could simultaneously get value and strike a blow for acceptance and respect.
On Saturday, as pick No. 249 neared, Fisher decided it was time to welcome Sam to the Rams’ family. He called Rams owner Stan Kroenke and told him of the plan, receiving a favorable response.
“Stan was all for it,” Fisher told me about 30 minutes after making the pick. “He said, ‘I like it. Let’s go for it.’ ”
And once the Rams were officially on the clock — and Sam remained undrafted — Fisher went for it. First, he had a very brief phone conversation with the player.
“It wasn’t much,” Fisher said. “He burst into tears, and he was so emotional that he really couldn’t speak. It was a cool moment.”
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